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My #NextChapter: Taking the LEAP

Anyone who knows me, knows I always have a soundtrack for different parts of my life. Friends and colleagues have shared with me that certain songs speak to them at certain parts of their lives. For me, the song currently speaking to me for this part of my life is the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime. As a new school year kicks off, I find myself in a strange place. For the first time in 21 years, I’m not running around trying to help classrooms get set up with their technology, updating iPads, training new teachers, or helping with district-wide professional learning.

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

About 15 months ago I was wandering around New Orleans and stumbled into a local coffee shop. They had a bookshelf full of books with “Free- take one” labeled on each cover. My eyes were drawn immediately to the cover and title of this particular book:

The title caught my attention because that’s exactly the title we used when we launched our 1:1 program in 2011. Our LEAP program stood for “Learning and Engaging through Access and Personalization”, and while it was centered around 1:1 iPads, what made it successful was the learning. Seeing the subtitle for this book did intrigue me, but when I got home from the trip, I set it on my bookshelf in my personal office and didn’t read it….for almost a year.

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…

Flash forward to this past spring. As I’ve told many a friend and colleague in person, there are always signs out there for us to see, and sometimes, they have to be banging you across the head to notice them. With some changes coming to both vision and structure in my now former district and increasing requests for my speaking and consulting side-work, I knew a decision was imminent.

While sitting at home over spring break, I began to discuss the possibility of leaving the 9-to-5 (more like 8-6) work as a district administrator to head into the freelance market of the “Gig Economy.” I discussed this with the one person in my life that has steered me right more than wrong, the mother of my kids….my wife.

“Sometimes, you just need to move on. If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it,” she said.

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife…

That all sounds well and good. After all, I’m the type of person that likes to push people to take risks, yet now, for some reason, I was waffling. Tons of questions swirled around my brain including:

Am I ready to leave 21 years of education behind?

How will I continue to be relevant?

What about private health care? (this one still scares me)

How will this effect my kids who are going to school in the district I work?

I’ve received a monthly pay check since I was 16-years old. How will my family handle the uncertainty of consultant and speaking work?

All of these questions and fears started to creep into my mind.

And you may ask yourself – Am I right? Am I wrong?

To be honest, I still don’t have answers for many of those questions, but in the weeks that have followed, answers have begun to seek me out. Below are some of the main items I weighed before making this decision to take the LEAP:

Time

I think I spent a total of 85 days at my house this past year. From the main work and the travel of the side work, my days and evenings are pretty

Reflecting on what’s important…

well tapped. Late night board meetings, random travel changes, and staying up late to work on a project all took time away from my family. While I know travel will increase some in this new role, I’m excited with the opportunity to spend more time with my kids, my wife, and my parents who live near us. That kind of time is precious and you can’t put a price on it. Too often, we become a slave to daily grind and carry that work home with us. The benefit of time with family was the number one motivator for me to make the decision to leave full-time district work.

Time isn’t holding up, time is after us

Relevancy

I never want to turn into one of those talking heads on stage that hasn’t stepped foot in an actual school in decades. I’ve had the good fortune recently to be hired on as a part-time consultant in a couple of amazing school districts. Having these consulting opportunities in place allow me to both be a part of district decisions and model learning in the classroom with actual students. I always find my energy from the kids, so having these in my back pocket to maintain relevance helped with my ultimate decision.

And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?

Other Creative Opportunities

I’ve built up a very supportive and inspiring network of friends, colleagues, and companies over the years in my role at the district. Many have asked me about collaborating on different ideas and concepts but I simply haven’t had the time. My hope now is that I can devote some energy into those collaborations and seek out some creative opportunities that might have not happened while juggling all the work. In fact, some plans and collaborations are already in the works! In the coming weeks and months, you should start seeing the result of these as I try to impact the larger scope of education across the country.

I’m soft-launching my site this week: CarlHooker.com. If you’d like to seek out my services as a consultant, speaker, MC, event organizer or creative collaborator, go there. I’m excited for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with even more educators across the world now!

Letting the days go by…

Self-care

I feel like there are 5 things that garner the majority of our attention: Family, spouse, work, friends, and self. These things change in order based on the time of year or whatever your current relationships look like. As this blog is all about me being honest, I’ll tell you that the last item on the list has really suffered lately. As my attention focused on the other 4 items, I spent little to no attention to self-care. That inattention has caused increased stress, blood pressure, weight gain, and insomnia. It’s hard to be productive as a father, husband, or employee with my own mind and body falling apart. While I’ll now have different stresses to manage, I feel like I’ll have extra time to manage those with healthier eating habits and exercise, which ironically should help the other four areas that need my attention.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

 

After my last day at “work”, I found myself behind the wheel of a large automobile as my family and I embarked on a 3-week RV expedition across the eastern United States. Having that gap and family time really confirmed my belief that this could all be possible and might just all work out. The journey ahead won’t necessarily be better or worse, it’ll just be different. I’ll miss many of the great students and teachers that I got to work with in my previous role, but also look forward to the many more teachers and students I’ll have the opportunity to work with in the future.

As a reader of my blogs and someone who’s made it this far on this post, I hope you’ll continue to come along with me on this #NextChapter of my journey and that our paths may cross in the future.

After all, you may ask yourself, where does that highway go to?

A Love Letter to the Teachers of Eanes ISD


“All good things must come to an end.”

Who said that? Do they really have to end? Does it always have to be the good things that end?

I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life in public education and the past 13 at this amazing district known as the Eanes Independent School District. During my time here, I’ve had three incredible children enter the world and the schools here. I’ve made connections and friendships with families, the community, legislators, business leaders and beyond.

To say it’s been an incredible journey is a gross understatement. While I am somewhat torn emotionally at the fact that this will be my final year at Eanes ISD, I’m also excited for what the next chapter in my life will bring and where this ride will take me. As I often do, lately I have been reflecting on my time here and all that WE accomplished. Without a doubt, the highlight of my career has been working with the incredible teachers in this district. You inspire me, make me laugh, make me grow, and push my beliefs. We’ve shared thoughts, ideas, tears, and struggles.

To the teachers of Eanes ISD, I cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve given me and my family.  So, before I go, I wanted to write you this love letter.

Have confidence in yourself. You have one of the hardest jobs on the planet, helping young humans learn. Know that this is EXTREMELY hard, but you pull it off with ease. Continue to have confidence in yourself and it will translate into even better experiences for you, your students and those around you.

Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. It’s much easier to just do the bare minimum or to not try something new. When I started in my current role here in 2010, integrating technology meant something COMPLETELY different than it does today. That said, the mindset around technology, while ripe with challenges, shouldn’t change our mission. The mission is NOT to raise kids, but to raise ADULTS ready for the world in front of them. Sometimes that means struggling with new things or trying a new idea that may fail, but remember to keep your confidence and your chin up through those times of struggle.

Change is inevitable and constant. When I started in this district, I always had a 3-year plan. Every 3 years I’d change schools or jobs. It took me 13 years to enact on my 3-year plan, largely due to the amazing community here. I changed my belief that I needed to constantly be changing jobs. My new goal was to see all three of my kids graduate from Westlake High School.

But now, that plan has also changed.

There will be many people that come in and out of your life here. There will be new standards to teach. New rules and policies to follow. And yes, technology will change (in fact, quite rapidly). You can either fear the change or embrace it. That sounds easy enough to do, “embrace change”. However I’m going to challenge you to also think about and question change when it happens. Understanding the “why” behind something is an important step in owning whatever the change is.

Have an opinion and don’t be afraid to express it. In fact, you are obligated to express it. We can’t continue to grow as a society or district or organization if everyone nods their head and moves on. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. A couple of years ago we started a “League of Innovators” with this purpose. These teachers applied to be a part of group with the ultimate goal of improving the district as a whole, not just around technology. I cherish my time with those in the league and the impact they had on our program. Please continue to express your opinion, even when it’s scary.

Whenever possible, be transparent. Trust is built around communication and transparency. Be open to letting others come into your classroom and growing from their feedback. Expect the same transparency from your leaders, as it will also help them and the school grow as a result of having open conversations.

The struggle is real, but move past it. We all have things that we bring to work with us. From personal issues to family health, stress and struggle are a part of all of our lives. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference, not only to ourselves, but our students. We are humans teaching humans. We are in this for the outcome, not the income. Don’t let your bad days get the better of you and don’t let your best days go to your head. Try your best to keep your #EnergyForward.

There will be days when you feel like you are on an island. You close your door with a single goal of teaching the kids in the room in front of you. Never forget how amazing it is to help kids learn, but also never forget that even if you feel alone, you are not. Lean on your colleagues. Lean on your friends. Lean on your family. After all, learning is better when played as a team sport.

Know there’s a bigger picture and it’s not just about making people comfortable. With transparency and openness comes discomfort. Humans are built to avoid conflict. Since the early days of life, if we sense danger, we either fight it or flee from it. This evolutionary trait will not change overnight, but we can try and overcome it to engage in meaningful discourse. We can’t progress as a society if we spend all of our time either being compliant or having well thought out arguments typed on a Facebook thread. Disagreement and discomfort can be a good thing if it takes us all to a better place.

Don’t be stifled by fear. There will be times when you are afraid to try something new. While there are always consequences for actions, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try something. Fear can be suffocating to innovation and creativity. Take well-thought out risks that help improve learning and engagement for your students. Mistakes may happen, but modeling how you learn from those mistakes makes a lasting impression on the students in your classroom.

Creativity is born out of struggle. There will always be some roadblocks on the path to success. Time. Money. Resources. Restrictive filters. When embarking on a new idea or project with your kids, embrace the failures and learn from them. Don’t give up. Roadblocks are there to slow you down, not stop you.

You are a rockstar. You are the front line. Students will graduate. Families move out. Administrators will come and go. Change happens. Roadblocks will try to slow you down. You have to be the one to set an example for your students. You have to show them how to struggle and how to persevere. You have to put a smile on your face when an angry parent misunderstands what their 6-year-old told them you said. You have to grin and bear it when a new policy or directive from the state is passed into your classroom. These things are not easy. But you didn’t get into this profession for easy.  You go into this profession to make a difference.

Know that you have made a tremendous difference on one individual and his family. I thank you all for making these last 13 years amongst the best in my life. I will miss the day-to-day friendships. I will miss the philosophical debates. I will miss a teacher running up to me inspired with a crazy idea to improve learning in their class and then helping them achieve it. I will miss leading professional learning for you in a multitude of forms (online, workshops, LearnFestATX, etc). Most regrettably, I’ll miss being able to work alongside you.

As I head into the my next chapter as a full-time consultant and speaker, know that I carry with me the collective passion and knowledge of the incredible teachers I’ve worked with during my time here. I don’t know where this next chapter of my life we ultimately take me, but, because of your support, I do know this….it will KICK ASS.

With love from your colleague,

Carl